In just two decades the number of 20-somethings in the Church has halved. You were more likely to survive the Titanic than ‘survive’ Church into adulthood. More than 40 per cent of 18 – 24 year olds think “religion is more often the cause of evil in the world”. At the Evangelical Alliance, we couldn’t just sit back and watch a generation of people leave our beloved family of God.
We wanted to do something, but weren’t sure what. We looked at the reasons that young adults left the Church, and were upset by the answers. They felt judged, they were bored and 20 per cent of them even felt that “God was missing”.
We needed something that showed the de-churched that faith was relevant in 21st century life – whether their church had shown them that or not. We needed to talk about the big issues that were causing so many to lose faith – debt, depression, divorce, sex, careers and loneliness couldn’t be off limits – the world tackles these topics, and so we needed the Church to, too. We needed to ask big questions, whether we had the answers or not.
So we launched threads, a community of millennials who are scratching their heads, trying to navigate 21st century life while holding on to their faith. We post blogs daily on issues those in their 20s and 30s are facing, we meet up at events and we now host training days for church leaders who are committed to welcoming this generation back into their church. Here are a few things we’ve learnt NOT to do along the way.
1. Being tribal
For most millennials, the denomination your church belongs to is far less important than whether your church is filled with people passionate about living for God and loving their neighbours. They’re less interested in who’s in and who’s out; or in historic denominational schisms than what these people in this place at this time are doing – and more importantly, what it means to live a Jesus-centred life in the here and now.
2. Being patronising
People in their 20s and 30s are adults. They may be leaders in their workplaces. They may be parents. So they may be turned off when we treat them like children because we think that’s what will engage them. This generation can spot a forced attempt to get ‘down with the yoof’ from a mile off.
3. Opposing culture
Millennials spend their lives immersed in culture – entertainment, art, media, technology, music. While of course we are called to make a difference in our world; to change the narrative of a culture that so often seems to distorts God’s design for humanity, there’s so much within culture to celebrate. We know that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Christ redeems culture. So let’s not fence ourselves off, but engage. Because our young people are.
4. Lacking community
Community to millennials means acceptance, openness, honesty and relationship. A huge turn-off for most millennials is a church in which people don’t deeply care about each other; where authentic friendships are not formed. And that doesn’t mean just with their peers. Millennials love building friendships and learning from people from older generations and at different life stages to them. No more walls.
5. Looking monochrome
Society is diverse and accepting. A church that looks and feels the same as it did when their parents – or grandparents – attended probably won’t make a millennials pull up a pew. They’re not after modernisation for modernisation’s sake. It’s about being flexible, being creative and being open to the new ideas that they might bring. Research carried out by the Alliance also shows young people are more likely to flourish in their faith in a mixed ethnicity setting. What can you do to ensure your church is welcoming to all?
6. Focusing on rules not Jesus
Relationship with Jesus is the main draw for millennials – not the idea of being a Christian. Look at the Twitter bios of 20s and 30s of faith and very few will give themselves that label. Instead, ‘Jesus follower’ is far more common. They don’t want a wishy-washy faith without boundaries, but don’t let tradition distract from devotion to God. The world often thinks of Christians for what we’re ‘against’ rather than what we’re ‘for’. Let’s focus on that.
7. Being dogmatic
Of course, as evangelical Christians we have a rich tradition of biblical Christianity. We love the Bible and believe in its divine inspiration and supreme authority. But, if we’re really honest, sometimes there are other things that we cling to, that perhaps we don’t need to. Dogma is anathema to millennials. And what we’re talking about here is an unflinching sense of things being black and white. Yes, as Christians we believe there are ultimate truths, but let’s at least have space to have honest conversations. Dogma shuts down space for discussion.
If you’re interested in finding out more about threads, you can visit the site here.